Dream to Achieve: The Importance of Sleep

Lack of Sleep Sleep deprivation Sleep, Dream, Dreaming

As a society we push ourselves to work long hours, viewing this as a necessary evil in the pursuit of success.  Technology ensures we are constantly connected to our work, even when we are not physically at work.  Popular off-duty activities include fast moving sports and video games.  Even if we take up something calming like yoga, we often rush from yoga class to the supermarket, then home to deal with domestic responsibilities, negating the calmness brought about by the yoga.  With leisure time shrinking and the length of time we work, both per week and over our lifetime, lengthening is it any wonder that many people suffer from lack of sleep?

Many of my clients come to me complaining that they are too busy and have to work exceptionally long hours.  They are tired, stressed and beginning to feel resentful toward the business that they once loved because its demands are getting harder and harder to manage.  Often I hear them tell me they are skimping on sleep in order to keep on top of everything they need to do.

It is World Sleep Day on 15 March so what better time to investigate the impact of lack of sleep on our mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.

Long work hours result in not only tiredness but also a lack of attentiveness which in certain circumstances can have really dangerous outcomes.  Driving whilst tired is just as dangerous as driving whilst drunk;  our reactions are impaired and it is not unheard of for fatal accidents to result from people actually falling asleep at the wheel.  Those super long days driving between meetings are really not good for your health.

Distracted and Inefficient

Lack of sleep will make you distracted.  Concentration will be more difficult and you will possibly flit about from task to task, unable to quite finish anything.  The plethora of half done tasks will then start to annoy and upset you.  As your judgement and ability to plan is also impaired by lack of sleep, this may lead to poor decision making. You may also fail to realise that the time has come to stop doing a task because you are not achieving anything useful.

When we sleep we are not just laid in bed recharging ourselves like a battery.  Sleep is the time when our brain sorts out all the stuff we have done and learned that day and puts it into the right order to make sense of things.  If you don’t get enough sleep, that won’t happen and you will find you are struggling to learn.  In today’s fast paced world where continued learning is a critical skill in the workplace, lack of sleep can therefore cause real problems.

Memory Failures

Both long and short term memory are affected by lack of sleep.  We might notice that we have to try harder to take on board new information and keep it available in long term memory.  The impact on short term memory is more immediately obvious; we can’t recall things that happened two minutes ago.  This is the point where you go up and down stairs fourteen times before you finally manage to remember that you went up there to get your glasses.

(Not) Getting Things Done

Efficiency and productivity are reduced, so an all-nighter will usually make you less efficient and productive rather than more so.  Brain imaging studies have shown that your brain must work harder when you are sleep deprived, making it less efficient and as a result you are also less efficient.  Taking the time to have the right amount of sleep will actually mean you get more done rather than less.

Because your brain is tired it will rely on the well-worn pathways created by habits. This is fine if the habit is useful, effective and appropriate.  It’s not so good if the habit is unhealthy.

Relationships

Lack of sleep affects our relationships as well.  We have less empathy when we are sleep deprived and can’t read facial expressions as effectively.  This can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts can arise, particularly if both parties are tired.  This can have an impact on relationships as well.  For example, new parents who are being woken throughout the night by their infant may find this places a strain on the relationship.

The Solution

The good news is that just one or two good nights sleep can reverse most of the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation.  The occasional late night/early morning can be coped with but for long term health as well as optimum efficiency and productivity, a regular sleep pattern is recommended.  The type of sleep is more important than the number of hours you are physically laid in bed as well.  There are four sleep stages and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is the most important.  Research suggests that we need about two hours of REM sleep per night in order to feel alert the next day.  Whether you are a morning or evening person makes a difference as well.  If possible, early birds should retire early and get up early whilst night owls might sleep from 2am – 10am and feel wonderful on waking.

If you have too much work and not enough sleep, why not outsource some of your admin so you can sleep in peace, knowing you don’t need to worry about your admin backlog.  Click Here to see the services I offer and  Click Here if you’d like to have a chat.

Colour Creates Clarity

Colour Coding, Organisational Tips, Colour Code, Red Amber Green, RAG System

Colour is not just for kids. Colour can play a strong and effective role in organising your time, tasks and environment.

Red Amber Green  RAG SystemWe are socially conditioned to see some colours as meaningful. In particular, red for danger, amber for caution and green for go. This traffic light system can be used to great effect in planning and organising tasks. It’s a standardised way to indicate issues in reports and to clearly signpost progress. Often shortened to RAG (Red, Amber, Green) it can give information at a glance and is widely understood.

You can apply the traffic light approach to your desk environment and keep three trays, or files, on your desk. Coloured Red, Amber and Green you can store the information for each category in these locations and instantly see what’s urgent. A colourful variation on the old In, Pending and Out trays. The colours impart a sense of urgency that was absent from the standard issue grey plastic trays with tiny little labels.

If you need to quickly note down a task or To Do item you can use Post-Its. Stick them on the relevant folder and you have everything together in one place. You could also use coloured Post-Its to denote urgency if you find this helpful.

Time and Task Management

When in the early stages of planning a complex project, use different coloured Post-Its on a wall planner or large piece of paper pinned to the wall. You can colour code by task, by team responsibilities, primary and secondary taskings or whatever you need to simplify your plan and make it feel more manageable. The Post-Its can be moved around at will, allowing you to create a plan quickly and easily and to alter it as needed until it works effectively. You can then transfer the plan to its final format, using the colour code to make the plan simple and clear for everyone to follow.

Diary Management

Colour coding is absolutely perfect for very busy diaries. Common events can be designated a particular colour. I put my meetings in one colour if they are waiting to be confirmed but use a different colour for meetings which are confirmed.

If you have multiple clients you can use a different colour for each client.  As many of us use the diary on our phone and check it on the run, this can be hugely helpful.

Outlook provides little icons for your diary entries so you can mark them with common activities such as food, travel, meeting etc in addition to the colour options. Helpful whilst you are getting used to the new colour code system.
It can be tempting to go overboard with the colours. However, too many colours will lead to confusion over which colour means what. You are aiming for a few, easily recalled colours, not a diary that resembles an explosion in a paint factory.
In a hard copy diary you can still use a colour code system. Use a different colour pen for client work, meetings or To Do list items. Use highlighters to denote the most important task of the day, or write the top three tasks in red.

Email Management

Gmail’s star system is incredibly useful for quickly identifying emails that need a more considered response. I use a variant of the RAG system for my Gmail diary; RAY, Red, Amber, Yellow, because once it is green it belongs in a file not in the InBox so that’s exactly where it gets put.

If you tend to review emails whilst on the move you can star the ones that you can’t deal with on the move and by colour coding them you can see at a glance which ones you need to tackle first when you get back to your desk. Naturally you can use whatever colour you want to denote urgency and Gmail also provides a small range of coloured icons in the same section as the stars and some people prefer to use these.

If you share an InBox, you can agree a colour code system to allocate responsibility. The person who picks up the Email colours it “their” colour and it is clear at a glance who is handling that particular task. A universal colour for “completed” is useful in some situations but ideally completed items should be filed in one of the folders you’ve set up for the purpose so that items can be found again quickly.

I hope you find the method works well for you.  I love colour coding and use it a lot with my clients, particularly the diary element which a lot of clients find really helpful.  If’ you’d like to find out more about the range of different ways in which  I can help to streamline your workload and get that pesky admin under control, get in touch and let’s have a chat.

HR Support: How to save time and money

HR Consultants, are you spending hours doing HR Support tasks such as creating documentation, sorting out admin, doing your marketing and taking your own notes in meetings?  Are you working every evening instead of spending time with family?  Are you unable to take on more clients because you are mired in the type of admin that you used to have an assistant for?  Wouldn’t it be fab if you could have an assistant just like you did in corporate life, but only use them when you need them.  Wouldn’t it be fab to be able to take on more clients and earn more money but still work the same hours?

The answer is straightforward:  A VA with a background in HR who understand what you need and has the skills to provide it.  It’s like having your own HR support function on call whenever you need something time consuming doing, and leaves you free to really help your clients with the issues they are facing.

I can, and do, support a range of business owners with quite a wide variety of general admin tasks.  However, my specialism is HR support work.  It’s my background, it’s the area of work I love most, and because I understand the sector, I know what is required, and as a result I can add a lot of value to your business.  I know what needs to be done and can get on and do it whilst you concentrate on the work you love.

I thought it might be helpful to share with you the top services that HR Consultants regularly ask me to perform to give you an idea of what a VA can support you with.

Handbooks and Documentation.

Often this will be proof-checking existing documents or updating the layout or content to match the client’s templates.  This is a really popular service and can really save a consultant time.  All the tedious bits are done for them and they are then free to concentrate on making sure the content is spot on.

Note Taking.

Often for Grievance and Disciplinary hearings though not exclusively so.  This is a popular one as it’s difficult to take notes and run the meeting effectively.  The notes take a while to write up, and for this type of meeting, turnaround speed is very important.  Being able to rely on me to type up the notes quickly and accurately means my clients don’t have to miss time with their children because they are tied to the computer late into the night writing up the notes of their latest meeting to make sure they can turn them around quickly.

Diary and Meeting Management

As a HR Consultant you have a really busy diary.  Organising all the different meetings, events and activities effectively is critical to ensuring you can make the most of your precious time and provide the high level of service which your clients expect and deserve.  Having someone else manage the often time-consuming back and forth involved in setting up meetings can be a real time saver.

InBox Management

Dealing with the routine day to day correspondence that doesn’t need your expertise.  Highlighting interesting opportunities which you might wish to take advantage of.  Corralling newsletters into a separate area to read later. Keeping things tidy so emails can be found when needed.

Correspondence.

Updating standard letters with new details so they can be sent out. Sending off reference requests and chasing them up if they don’t return promptly.  Completing routine templates with new information.

Research and copy writing.

Not just for articles and blog posts but also searching LinkedIn or the Internet for particular groups of people, creating key points reports on new legislation and finding contact information for people.

Transcription

Whether it’s focus groups or the recording from a grievance, disciplinary or other meeting, an accurate record is critical.  Speed and accuracy is always important but never more so than in HR situations in which a person’s career could be affected by the outcome of the meeting.  The individual, the HR Consultant and the company all need the matter resolved quickly.  Promptly submitted, accurate notes are a small but critical element to achieving this resolution.

This is not an exhaustive list because every business is different and faces different challenges.  A VA is there to help you to negotiate the challenges in a way that makes sense for you and your business.  I am always happy to chat about the admin tasks that are taking up time that you’d rather spend on income generation or with your family.  You can get in touch with me here for a chat.

Business Processes: The Blueprint for Success

Business Processes

At the beginning of a new year our thoughts tend to turn toward making improvements in our business which will increase its size and revenue.  Often when a business grows rapidly, information about tasks and processes are held entirely in someone’s head.  If they leave the company this can leave a knowledge gap that can be difficult to fill.  New staff come in and are not sure what the business processes and procedures are and this can lead to problems with motivation, accuracy and speed of learning.  Even if your staffing is relatively stable, people get sick or go on holiday, leaving someone to temporarily carry out their tasks.

As a business grows, written business processes to govern how tasks are carried out, by whom and within what timescale will become increasingly necessary to ensure a consistent quality outcome.  Written processes also give a benchmark against which performance can be measured and a hand over plan when staff move on or change roles.

steps, steps to improve, steps to increase

The first step when documenting a process or task is to break the process down into steps.  Identify who is responsible for each step in the process, what the outcome looks like at each stage and what order tasks should be completed in order to arrive at a consistently high quality outcome using the minimum effort and resources necessary.  Look at the stages of the process and identify any areas where tasks are handed between people. Ensure that these areas are particularly clearly documented and state who is responsible for each area of the outcome.  Add any milestones or targets required for timely completion.

checklist, GDPR checklists

List everything that you think could go wrong.  If appropriate, ask another person if they can see any areas where a failure might occur.

Write it all down but then put it away for a day or two.  When you go back to read it again, try to follow the steps.  Would you add new steps?  Do you understand what you wrote?  Could you express the task more clearly?  Would a diagram, screen shot or better explanation help?  What would you clarify?

business procesesses project planning project management

Ask someone you trust to follow the process as  you have written it.  Can they follow it easily?  Do they understand it clearly or do you explain some elements more clearly?  How do they think it could be improved to make the outcome happen faster or more efficiently?  What input can they give which will help the overall process to move smoothly?

business processes project planning project management

Provide links to all supporting information.  This might be a “How To” guide for a task that forms part of the whole, a manual that governs company process, legislative rules, or a related instruction that is already in place.

Include the locations of any files or forms that must be used.  If your documentation changes infrequently, example forms are fine to include.  However, if you can store the form on-line and publish a link in your process document this will make your documentation more future proof.  If the form is updated, your manual will remain applicable.

Contact details for all the teams involved in the process are also critical.  Using a link to the company contact list is helpful here.  Again, it future proofs your documents, reducing the number of amendments required.

If you must use jargon or acronyms, please explain it in a footnote.  It is particularly important to avoid these in induction manuals since your new team member will think they’ve landed in outer space without knowing the language.

Before a process is released into the world it should ideally be tested to identify any missing steps or incorrect information.   If you can, ask a representative of all the teams involved to look at the process to make sure it will work at every step in the process.

All business processes are live documents and should be subject to regular review, particularly when there have been major changes in the organisational structure.

An outsider can often view business processes more clearly than those who are within the organisation.  They come in with a fresh eye and new questions that you might not have thought of.  It can be a challenge to “see the wood for the trees” when you are so close to the action.  A new perspective can also help clarify priorities for change where there seem to be a lot of issues to resolve at once.  If this is an area you are struggling with, then do get in touch.  I have experience in setting up and improving processes and would be glad to help.

The 12 days of C-HR-istmas

As we count down to Christmas, for those who celebrate it, I do like to provide a little light relief.  Last year it was Santa’s VA which you can read about here and here.  This year it’s the 12 days of C-HR -istmas.  A short, light-hearted gallop through some of the issues that HR might find itself involved with.  Naturally names, where used, have been changed.

Doughnuts, treats, On the first day of Christmas HR dealt with:

The man who loved doughnuts way, way too much.  In a very physical way.

date night, holding hands, relationships HROn the second day of Christmas HR dealt with:

John and Daisy being exceptionally friendly in the stationery cupboard.  If only they’d locked the door.  If only Doris from Accounts had not chosen that moment to break her stapler and go in search of a new one.

Fight, office fight, HR issuesOn the third day of Christmas HR dealt with;

A fist-fight between Russ and John in the middle of the cafeteria.  Russ had thought that he was happily married until he heard that his wife, Daisy, had been found in the stationery cupboard with John.

Office party. HR ChallengeOn the  fourth day of Christmas HR dealt with:

The fall out from the office party:  four vomiting sales personnel, three complaints about inappropriate behaviour, two photocopied bottoms, one MD with a black eye, and the junior staff member who launched the unprovoked attack on the MD.

Fish office complaints HROn the fifth day of Christmas HR dealt with:

A deputation of 5 staff complaining about Tim cooking fish in the office microwave and stinking up the office.

sleep, bed, relaxation, health, HR challengeOn the sixth day of Christmas HR dealt with:

The woman who rang in to ask how many sick days she had and could she take one today as she was really tired and didn’t want to come to work.

On the seventh day of Christmas HR dealt with:

The person who thought it would be amusing to add pornographic images to their Health and Safety Powerpoint presentation.

dancing, party, On the eighth day of Christmas, HR dealt with:

The person who was really unwell with flu and couldn’t make it into work but had managed to find the strength to drag himself to the local nightclub where he was seen by several co-workers dancing with energy and enthusiasm.

drinking, alcohol, HR challengeOn the ninth day of Christmas, HR dealt with;

The woman whose carafe of water had something more interesting than water in it.

On the tenth day of Christmas, HR dealt with:

The man who thought it would be amusing to give a box of chocolate willies to a young female co-worker as a secret santa gift.

office chair, office politics, office complaints, HROn the eleventh day of Christmas, HR dealt with:

8 people who all arrived mob handed to complain that Alice the temp had sat on Tarquin’s office chair and altered the height of it even though the team had all told her not to do so.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, HR dealt with:

Bob and Sadie.  Bob made himself a cup of tea in Sadie’s mug, which apparently had Sadie’s name on it and everyone knew it was Sadie’s mug.  Sadie wanted HR to issue a statement banning people from using other people’s mugs.  Bob just wanted a cup of tea.

If you are an HR Consultant and need someone to take notes of meetings, or provide general or HR specific administrative  support you can get in touch with me here.

Are YOU Outsourcing these five tasks?

Outsourcing Virtual Assistant VA Admin Support

Following on from my post about the intangible value that outsourcing to a VA can bring to your business I thought it would be helpful to discuss some of the specific value-added tasks a VA can complete for you.  If you missed the first blog, you can read it here.

A VA is the “Can you just…” person for your business.  We deal with the things that don’t need your expertise.  The routine admin tasks that take time.  The day to day support tasks.  The last minute research and so much more.

Most of us have a large amount of very varied experience in a range of areas and you’d be surprised what we can help you with. It is our transferable skills that make us effective.   The detail of the task can be different for each client but the benefits are the same; a better return on investment for your precious and limited time.

The work I do is very varied but there are five key tasks that I carry out for almost all my clients.  Unsurprisingly, these are tasks that are time consuming but do not directly contribute to income generation.

Diary and Meeting Management

Ensuring you are where you should be, in plenty of time. Managing the often time-consuming back and forth involved in setting up meetings between very busy people.  Ensuring best use of time by laying out diaries in a way that ensures enough time allocated for client work.  Booking meetings into the diary in a way that makes best use of your limited time.

In-Box Management

Managing your Emails and flagging up the important items.  Dealing with the routine rubbish. Highlighting interesting opportunities that might align with your brand.  Politely responding to approaches that you aren’t ready to consider yet but might want to look at in the future.  Corralling newsletters into a separate area to read later and keeping things tidy so emails can be found when needed.

Social Media

Social media and marketing is a necessity for a small business and outsourcing it is easy.   I provide support with the more time consuming elements of this.  Writing content.  Sourcing articles to share, creating graphics and making videos from blog posts so content can be reused effectively.  Scheduling posts based on an agreed content schedule.  Researching for blog posts.  Help and support with marketing tasks and ideas.

Data Input

This is a popular service.  I can type up most documents you might need but data input is much more than that.  I can input into popular CRM systems, Excel, and any bespoke software that you are using for any purpose.   If you need information added to a system, I can do that for you.  Quickly, accurately and effectively. Data input can be time consuming, particularly if you aren’t a touch typist so outsourcing this can save you a lot of time.

My most popular ad hoc service is input of business cards into CRM systems or Excel.  I often perform this one for new clients so they can get a feel for how accurate and responsive I am.  It’s a good one to choose if you’ve never worked with someone virtually before as it gives a good feel for how the process works and how responsive the service can be.

General Admin Tasks

Returning calls and emails, correspondence, stuffing envelopes, chasing up missing information, mailing out documents, tidying offices, filing and generally getting stuff under control when it’s gotten out of control.    Just to show you how bespoke outsourcing can get, one client has me handle all the vouchers that go through their business.  Another uses me only for proof checking.

Although my specialism is HR support, I work with a number of businesses who need a variety of general tasks carried out.   If you are ready to make more money and have more time to spend with your family, you can get in touch with me here for a chat.

Note Taking: Investigation, Grievance and Disciplinary

Note Taking; Grievance; Disciplinary; Investigation; Hearings; HR Support

When things go Wrong

No matter how careful, or how caring, you are, things can occasionally go awry in the workplace.  Issues arise which need to be investigated, people raise grievances which need to be heard and unfortunately, not everyone complies with the company rules, no matter how many times you ask them to sign the Staff Handbook.  If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, it is necessary to deal with the investigation, grievance or disciplinary quickly and thoroughly, and to keep good records throughout the process.

In the case of investigations it is necessary to take witness statements and if the matter progresses to a disciplinary meeting these statements will be critical.  The disciplinary itself must be carried out in accordance with good practice.  You can read more about this here on the ACAS site where you can download a number of very useful documents.

Whenever something goes awry, accurate and effective note-taking and evidence recording forms a critical part of the resolution process.

Confidential and Discreet

It can feel quite personal when these things arise, particularly if the issue involves a breach of trust, or could impact negatively on the business you have spent so long building and nurturing.   It is certainly a challenging time for any business.  One thing you absolutely do not need is gossip or discussion of the issue within the workplace.  This will potentially create problems further down the line, allow the individual to raise issues relating to lack of confidentiality and of course, gossip can de-stabilise your team.  Issues must be dealt with rapidly but effectively.  It’s never good to rush these things and certainly you should never miss out a step, but everyone involved will be keen to get the matter resolved effectively so a timely progression through the steps is always the best approach.

Impartial and Experienced

Whether you are an employer or an HR Consultant, having an independent person to take the notes in disciplinary or grievance meetings can be hugely beneficial.  They will be totally impartial and will have no pre-existing knowledge of the company or team so will not have any bias or make any assumptions which could affect their note-taking.

In a small organisation it can be difficult to find someone who is both an experienced note taker, capable of taking the notes accurately, and is also unknown to the person involved.  In situations of this kind it is critically important that what happens in the room, stays in the room, no matter what the size of the organisation.  However, in smaller organisations there have been cases where the information left the room because the note taker was inexperienced and was unaware that they should not discuss the case they had just noted.

Trust

Often in situations of this kind feelings are running high.  The person involved will be upset. They may feel distrustful, angry or betrayed.  It’s very important that everyone in the room is able to be trusted by the individual involved and it can help if the person taking the notes is not from within the organisation.  It is clear the note taker will have no preconceived views about anyone or anything which is mentioned and this can help the individual to feel they can speak freely.

In this type of situation, explanations can become frantic, emotional and difficult to follow at times.  It can take a level of confidence and experience for a note-taker to ask the individual to stop, and to wait whilst they catch up, and then for that note taker to calmly read back the notes and ask whether all the key points have been included.  It also helps if your note taker has an HR background as it is easier for them to accurately pick out the important points from the irrelevant and note only the key issues.   Notes must be taken long-hand to enable them to be reviewed by all parties at the end of the meeting and, if appropriate, initialled to show agreement.

Sometimes being in a room with the people whom the individual feels had not listened previously, and being able to fully explain their concerns and issues, can be enough to allow the issue to be resolved.  And if there is a set of really good notes as an outcome of the meeting, the formality of this can be appreciated by the individual.  If matters cannot be resolved quickly and the next stage of the process is required, then the notes will be a critical part of the process at that stage.

Practical and Effective

When chairing the meeting, you need to feel confident that the notes will be full enough to rely upon throughout any stages that might follow, and  certain that they include all the relevant details (and none of the irrelevant ones).  Having someone with HR knowledge to take the notes can be invaluable for ensuring this.

Of course you can also record the meeting and in this case, the recording can be transcribed, allowing a full record of the proceedings to be made.  Even if you choose not to have the recording transcribed, it can useful  for cross-checking facts in the notes if that proves necessary at a later stage.

Minute-Taking-Service

For the HR Consultant, having a dedicated note taker rather than trying to multi-task can be a huge benefit.  It can be very difficult to chair the meeting, ask the right questions, and note the answers in meetings where feelings are running high and people may be shouting, crying or arguing.  This is particularly true in disciplinary hearings.  Trying to both take notes and consider the evidence and information being provided can be hugely challenging in some meetings.

Writing up the notes of meetings needs to be done very promptly following a meeting of this kind.  The individual and the company will both need a resolution to the situation quickly.  It can be a challenge for the HR Consultant to get everything written up in a timely way and often involves working late into the night.  I have returned notes with a 24 hour turnaround for cases in the past.  This ensures you have the information you need to make a decision quickly and accurately.  This can be particularly important if the person involved is suspended from work for a potential disciplinary offence.

Naturally the note-takers hourly rate is less than that of an HR Consultant so there are cost savings when you consider how long it can take to type up the notes.

If you are an HR Consultant or a small company and you are looking for support in this area of your business, you can contact me here for a no obligation chat. 

VAVA Voom: Value Added Virtual Assistance

Virtual Assistance, Virtual Assistant, Administration Support, Value Added Service

Something a client said recently really made me think.  Not that my clients don’t make me think regularly you understand, but mostly it’s about how to do things quickly and efficiently to save them time or how I can improve the way I provide my Virtual Assistance so that clients get even better value.

My client, let’s call her Sue, had a phone enquiry.  A few minutes into the call their enquirer asked what it was Sue actually did.  You see, they’d decided that they needed what Sue provided but hadn’t really been clear on the value that this would add to their business once they had engaged her services.

So, today’s post is not about what I do, but about the value Virtual Assistance can add to a business.  The value is more than the sum of the tasks after all.

As my strapline says; I create time for business.  I give you back the time you’ve lost trying to juggle multiple roles as a small business owner.  This is the single most valued outcome of working with me according to my client feedback.  A desire for a better work-life balance is often the reason people initially approach me for assistance.

Rescue your relationship.  Yes, that did happen.  Discretion forbids detailing it though.

Help you to see options to move forward with tasks that you are stuck with.

Suggest different ways to tackle tasks that will make them quicker and easier or will create a better outcome.

Organise tasks and even people when you don’t have time or energy to think about doing so.

Pick up the routine stuff that could get lost in the heat of battle.   The stuff that in a corporate environment you would just ask someone to help with….  Those “Can you just…?” and  “Would you be able to…..” type tasks that your colleague might pick up for you.

Give you a helping hand with the things that are taking up too much of your valuable time.

Make sure things that need to be remembered don’t get forgotten.

Ensure accuracy.  Whether that’s your documentation, appointments, blog posts or the notes of that disciplinary meeting.  Done right, done fast and done the way you like it.

Make your business look good.  A VA answering your emails and organising your diary gives a great impression of an organised and efficient business.

Contribute expertise on the administrative and time management aspects of any new business ideas and expansion plans you might have.

Virtual Assistance is about working in partnership with you, supporting you in achieving the business goals you are striving towards.    I actively look for ways to make your life easier, and implement them (with your permission of course). Sometimes that’s a big thing like suggesting a re-organisation of the inbox or creating some graphics or a video for your business, sometimes it’s a tiny thing, like just going into your InBox and tidying out the rubbish that you really won’t ever read.

I work with you.  If you tell me what you are trying to achieve, I’ll do my best to help you realise that.  I can’t know everything.  There will be areas I can’t cover (finance and cold calling being two that spring to mind) but in my chosen field of HR Support, I am, though I say it myself, pretty good at what I do.  If you were inclined to disbelieve me, I have the testimonials to show it.

If you would like to add this level of service and value to your business, then you can click here to find out what other people think about working with me and here to start the conversation.

Work Overload: An Increasing Problem

Work, Burnout, Overload, Overloaded, Business, Mental Health

Ahead of World Mental Health day which falls on 10th October this year, I want to raise an issue that is, I think, particularly important to small business owners:  Work Overload.

Work overload results when the demands of the job role exceed the limits of reasonable human endurance.  People are expected to, or try to do, too much, in too little time, with too few resources.  It’s characterized by a combination of factors including:

  • Pressure to work long hours
  • Heavy workloads which cannot reasonably be completed by a normal person within the hours allotted to the tasks.
  • Few breaks, little time off and few or no holidays.
  • Unrelenting, constant and highly pressured working pace.
  • Unrealistic expectations of what could be achieved with the available time and resources
  • Carrying out, or trying to carry out, more than one role at once.

There is a lot written about work overload within large corporate and public sector environments but all of the points above afflict small business owners too.  The pressures which lead to the overload are different but the results are the same.  And those results can be devastating.  Particularly for small business owners who in most cases cannot easily choose to walk away from the business and do something else.   This element of having no choice can make the effects of work overload feel even worse.

When work overload is persistent rather than seasonal or occasional, then our bodies can’t recover, rest and restore balance.  Every role has busy periods but if we know it will be followed by a slack period when we can recover, this makes it possible for us to keep going.  That feeling that the work will just keep coming at you constantly with no respite or let up is true overload.

Do I have Work Overload?

Work overload isn’t just about work quantity but also the type of tasks that you have to deal with.  A busy workload with very clearly defined tasks and boundaries is actually good for your mental wellbeing.  What is destructive to mental wellbeing is a chaotic workload.  Competing priorities, extra tasks with short deadlines, being unsure what the day will throw at you, and trying to do tasks for which you feel unqualified.  Working like this means you cannot plan your day effectively, cannot meet everyone’s expectations and never feel you’ve finished your work.

Technology also adds to the pressure.  Work messages ping onto your phone all evening when you are trying to relax.  Home becomes an extension of work, particularly for staff who work from home and home-based small business owners.  Many articles suggest shutting the door of the home office.  This only works if the phone is trapped in there being ignored.  And how many of us do that?

When work bleeds into our home life the work overload affects our family too.  Couples end up spending more time working than they do with their family.  There are constant pressures to be the perfect parent, and the perfect worker, with Social Media telling everyone they can have it all and it’s easy.  But it’s not is it?  Something has to give and that something is often the couple’s relationship with each other and with their children.

What can you do to avoid work overload?

date night, holding hands, relationshipsMake home life and health a priority

Ensure you do not neglect your social life and any artistic or cultural activities which you value.  Whether you like to go to Rock Concerts, read quietly in a corner, create Airfix models or work in your garden, make sure you find time each week for these activities.  Schedule them into the diary if you can and make sure that you don’t make excuses not to do them.  Don’t neglect Date Nights with your significant other.  It’s important to ensure your relationship remains healthy so you can support each other when you each need it.

Get Enough Sleep.

Make it a habit to always ensure you get adequate sleep.  This has a huge impact on health and wellbeing.  Views vary on what the ideal amount of sleep is, but 6-8 hours is good unless you really are one of those rare people who only need four hours.

Exercise

Just three hours a week spread throughout the week will have a positive effect.  Ideally include both aerobic and strength training but if you aren’t that athletic, even a simple daily walk will help.  And if you choose the walking option, try to look around you as you walk.  It’s easy to plod along, looking at the ground, pondering about work issues.  Instead look at the leaves, the trees, listen for the birds, watch dogs running in the park.  If you are in a built up area, look up at the architecture and sky, or at the plants in people’s gardens.  Concentrate on the air you are breathing, notice how the earth smells in the rain, how the sun feels, or how the cold air is so fresh in the winter.

Relax your mind and body

Meditation can be very helpful in reducing stress on a daily basis.  If you make it a habit for the start and end of the day this can have a really positive impact on stress reduction.   It can also be helpful to take a couple of minutes in the daytime if things are particularly fraught, and just breathe in, and out, slowly whilst thinking of a calm and quiet place.

Frequent three day weekends can be a great idea, particularly for small business owners who struggle to get away from the business for a longer holiday.  When you are feeling overworked it can feel stressful to go away for a longer holiday as you may feel worried about what you are going to get home to.  Long weekends are a great alternative.  Try to do something truly relaxing with your long weekend.  Something that fulfills you but is not goal driven.

Feed your health

Restrict caffeine and alcohol since they produce chemical stressors on the body which can make stress worse.  Ensure you are taking in enough potassium as this affects the adrenal glands which produce the hormones that govern our fight or flight and stress response.  Potassium is found in fruit and vegetables particularly bananas, oranges, raisins, potatoes, mushrooms, cooked broccoli, spinach and soy beans.

In the workplace

There are some steps you can take to control your workload so that it doesn’t feel so overwhelming. These include:

  • Setting aside blocks of time for work and for appointments, and putting this in the diary so you have a shape to your day and know when you are working and can plan tasks that will fit the time you have available.  As mentioned earlier, it can be useful to block out time for relaxation too… it gives a goal and an end point when things are fraught and is something to look forward to.
  • Discouraging people from just “dropping by”.  The latter can be a real problem for home-based workers as friends seem to think you will be able to just stop what you are doing and have coffee with them whenever it takes their fancy.
  • Learn how to say no really diplomatically.  Someone once told me that the epitome of diplomacy was the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that the person really enjoyed the journey.    It is OK to say No.  No one ever died from being told No.
  • Leave your phone in another room whilst you are working, turn off the notifications or put it on silent.
  • Prioritise emails and correspondence.  Try to avoid the knee jerk response of “ooh, email… must answer now”.  Look at it dispassionately.  Do you really need to reply to that now?  Will it wait?
  • Break large tasks and projects into smaller bits and tackle them one at a time.  It’s easier and less overwhelming.  I’ve recently written blog posts about successful project planning here and here which you may find useful.
  • Learn to delegate.  No one can do everything.  I do lots of things myself but I have an absolutely lovely lady who does my accounts.  This was the first thing I ever outsourced because I knew that the time saved and the reduction in stress would be completely worth it.  If you aren’t sure what to delegate or how to do it, I wrote a blog post here.  However, in essence it recommends that you either automate or outsource the tasks you hate, are not good at, or those that take forever to complete.

And if the things you hate to do are admin related, you can get in touch with me here.  Let’s have a chat about the things that are causing you stress, eating into your time and stopping you from increasing your business revenue.

Social Media: Are you missing a trick?

Social Media Tips Tricks consistent posting schedule

Any half decent laxative advert will tell you that regularity is important for your health.  Regularity is also important for your business health too and the  health of your business can be maintained by ensuring your social media posts are regular.  Here are just a few of the many reasons why posting regular, good quality content can help your business to thrive.

Front of mind.

Front of mind is absolutely the best place to be as a business owner.  All marketing and networking activity is basically about achieving this aim.  In a highly connected world with a lot of noise, staying front of mind can be challenging and regularity is critically important to success.

It’s all about being the person or company that someone thinks about when they are ready to purchase.  Being where your clients are within the online world is important and then if you keep popping up with interesting content that they want to read and offers or advice that solves their problem, then when they are ready to purchase, you have a hope of being recalled to mind and contacted to see if your business can help.

Consistency and an attractive offer that solves a problem are the keys here.

People may think the business is closed, or not doing well, if you don’t post regularly.

Trust

Know, Like and Trust is critically important in business.  People buy from those they feel they have a connection with, share values with, and those they feel they can trust.  You earn that trust in real life by adding value, demonstrating that you know what you are talking about in your chosen field, helping people with problems and being present for people when they need your support or advice.

Letting people see your values, the things that are important to you, all of this makes your business human, and allows people to create a connection with you and see if you are likely to be the type of person they might want to learn to like and trust.  The type of business they think they might want to work with.

social media blog chat communicate like share

Be Sociable

It is SOCIAL media.  A place to be social.  Don’t just post but also interact.  Keep an eye on your posts and reply quickly and effectively to anything people post.  The way you address questions and complaints is critically important and replying to comments, keeping the chat going, is a great way to show the human side of your business, be social and build a rapport with people.  It’s not just about selling, or even solely about adding value, though value is important.   It is also about starting, and maintaining, the chat.  It may not always be chat about business related issues, but the person with whom you chat about dogs may recommend you to someone who needs your services because they feel they know you and can trust you.

Medical and religious reasons excepted, it’s quite rare, and a bit difficult, to just stop talking to people in real life for several days, weeks or months.  As a minimum you might say “Hello” to people in the street, thank the salesperson, answer the phone, or ask a question.  Why would you suddenly stop talking on Social Media?  Why would you stop the chat?  Chat is good.  Chat builds trust.

SEO

If you update your content regularly and it drives traffic back to your website then you are getting more eyes on your carefully created website.  A website  which tells people who you are, what you do, who you do it for, how well you do it, why you do it, and what makes you stand out from others in your sector.   They may have gone there to look at your latest blog post which you helpfully linked to on Social Media.  But they will hopefully wander around your site once they land there, because people are in fact incredibly nosy.

Social Media itself pretty much relies on the human love of being nosy.  We like to see what others are up to.  You can check out all sorts of people and places without anyone asking you “What are you staring at?”  If you take the opportunity to post regular content that drives people to the place where you want them to stand and stare, roam about and learn a bit more about you, how cool is that?

Because Social Media moves so quickly, posting regularly is the best way to get seen.  Regular posts have more hope of being seen and clicked upon.

Consistency

You want to be seen as someone who is reliable and consistent.   If you pick up and put down your social media, you don’t look consistent.  Or reliable.  And we all want reliable from our business partners.  If there are huge gaps in your social media posting history, people stop thinking about you, or your brand, and start wondering about the reason for the gap.  As I said, we are basically nosy and you don’t really want people speculating about unwelcome reasons for your lack of posts.

tricks social media tricks

Tricks and Tips

So, if you are not posting regularly, are you missing a trick?  Or are you already convinced of the need to do this but worried that you don’t have the time to spend on the task with everything else you need to do?  Well, you can schedule ahead and this can be massively helpful as you can write a lot of content in one go and schedule it to go out when you need it to.

There are a number of schedulers available, I like to use Hootsuite, which has a limited free service.  I also use Tweetdeck for Twitter, also free, and like to schedule direct to business pages on Facebook.  This is free and I have a blog post on how to do this if you aren’t sure.  There are also other schedulers including MeetEdgar, Buffer and Hubspot all of which are highly popular.

There is another really effective scheduler.  It’s not free but it really cuts down the time you need to spend on Social Media Scheduling.  A VA can schedule your content for you and, unlike the schedulers mentioned above, can also source photos, and create Canva graphics or simple Lumen5 videos for your business, saving you the task of doing it.

It just so happens that I am a VA.  But of course you know that.

And it just so happens that I offer this as a service.  You guessed that part though didn’t you?

You can contact me here if you would like to know more about this service, or any of my other regular, reliable and time saving services.

Alternatively, you can just roam around the site.  I promise not to ask you if you are staring at  me.